Creative

Former refugee boats give cruisers a tour of Amsterdam through the eyes of migrants

Photo Credits: UNHCR

Once upon a time, ‘Meneer Vrijdag’ and ‘Klein Boot’ were boats that were previously used to smuggle asylum seekers across the Mediterranean in search for a better life.

Now, the vessels are traversing much calmer waters: they’ve been taken in by Lampedusa Cruises, a tour company in Amsterdam that invites residents and tourists alike to take in the city’s history, much of which has been shaped by refugees and migrants.

The skippers, from countries including Eritrea, Libya and Syria, all have one thing in common – they themselves were refugees who came to Amsterdam on a boat not unlike the vessel they now sit at the helm of.

“Our guides tell you the hidden history of Amsterdam through the eyes of its immigrants and outsiders, including their personal migration story,” the company’s website reads.

The company takes its name from the island of Lampedusa, which is a symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis due to it being a popular destination for refugees sailing from Africa. What the cruises hope to do is to provide an alternative, less traditional insight into Amsterdam that isn’t necessarily what first comes to mind when one thinks about the city.

“The beauty of this project is that while Amsterdam is so shiny, we dive into some issues that aren’t so clean,” said Sahand, a tour guide. “Most tour companies talk about the Golden Age of the Netherlands and point out the old buildings. We talk about the immigrants who built them.”

Nine-year-old runs library for children in slums of India

Photo Credits:   Pratham Books

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Muskaan Ahirwar just might be the youngest librarian in the world: this nine-year-old girl, who lives in a slum in Bhopal, runs a library for children just outside her house.

When the state’s education center realized that children lacked interest in and access to books outside of school, they decided to do something to promote reading in the slum area. The education center held a quiz to create interest among the children, and Muskaan’s high score and enthusiasm impressed all the members of the center. They asked her for ideas on how they could educate the children living in the slum, and from then on, Muskaan’s library idea was born.

"I love doing this. Other children in slum area take books and then return other day. Some stay back to read here with me and ask questions where they don't understand," Muskaan told Times of India.

The library now has over 700 books donated from elsewhere in India and overseas, and has become a popular hangout spot for the children.

“Once I started the library, children who used to roam around have found new interest in reading and come regularly,” Muskaan told AJ+.

Children also play trivia games and have discussions about the books they’ve read at the library.

“Whoever has the drive to learn, they should start their own library and start learning, and study like us and get ahead in life,” Muskaan said.

 

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

One woman’s mission to light up her town for Christmas

This Christmas, one American town is shining a little brighter – thanks to Victoria Coakley and her project to “light up” the west end of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Coakley told local news station WLKY that it is her mission to bring more decorations to West Louisville.

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“Instead of seeing the abandoned houses with cardboard on them and graffiti, I want them to see Christmas lights,” Coakley said.

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Since the beginning of December, Coakley has been collecting decorations and stringing them around the neighborhood with the help of volunteers. Coakley received enough to decorate about 100 homes.

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Coakley’s efforts to light up the this part of Louisville have been well received by the people of the neighborhood, who agree that this gives the town some much needed positivity.

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“It is all about the kids, just trying to give them some kind of inspiration,” Stallard, a local resident, said.

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As captioned in a Facebook post, the west end of Louisville doesn’t have many Christmas lights. Children deserve to see Christmas spirit, regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

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"It changes the atmosphere of everything. There's not really a lot of activity or positive things going on that you can visually see. So the lights are something that you can see," Coakley said.

Art-through-pods fights homelessness with art in Oak Park, California

Rapid gentrification in the neighborhood of Oak Park, California, has exacerbated the homelessness problem in the area, prompting residents Aimee Phelps and Kevin Greenberg to take action with their creative project, Art-through-Pods.

Concerned at the growing number of people sleeping outside on the conrete, Phelps, who is a local artist, decided to take action. With some tubing, plastic cardboard, wheels and a matress pad, all wrapped up in swirls and a striking shade of green, the Art-through-Pods project began.

“The idea is that we can build these pods so people aren’t sleeping on the sidewalk and sleeping on the street, but we also cover them with art,” said Greenberg. “So instead of just leaving them with shopping carts and blue tarps in the alley, you’re looking at this.”

Greenberg, a welder, modified Aimee’s initial pod designs, changing its shape to be small enough to fit on a sidewalk, in a parking spot and down a bike lane, but big enough for two adults. He also added welded steel, plywood and switched out bicycle wheels for wheelchair parts for a sturdier structure.

Each pod has a customized design: one is emblazoned with a replica of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, and another is lavender with delicate orchid patterns.

The pair’s project has gained much attention in the local community. Phelps receives letters on her porch from people requesting for pods, and people come up to her asking how they can get on the list.

While these creative pods don’t provide a means for permanent housing, they are offering the homeless a place to store their belongings in the day and a shelter to sleep in at night. They’re also showing them that their plights aren’t going unheard in the community.

"I can't even explain how happy it makes us to go out and give these pods away to people who need it and deserve it and shouldn't be sleeping in alcoves and forgotten," said Phelps.

Free app ‘Refugeye’ helps refugees break down language barriers and focus on getting the help they need

When refugees arrive in a host country, the language barrier make it difficult for them to articulate their circumstances to NGOs and social service groups. The process of getting the help they need is thus long and hard, coupled with the frustration that they aren’t being understood.

With this in mind, Design & Human created Refugeye, an app to facilitate better communication and understanding between refugees and the people of their host country.

The free app offers over 150 icons, each one unique and simple. General icons include the logo for UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees), a passport and a house. More specific ones, for example a figure holding out his wrists to another indicates arrest and a figure carrying a bindle to represents homelessness, can help refugees get their stories across precisely.

Users can also use the pen tool to draw on the icons themselves, their screen essentially becoming a canvas for them to illustrate what they would otherwise have a hard time trying to get across. Illustrations can be saved as images to be used in future.

Refugeye is indeed a simple and creative solution for refugees; with the app, they can focus on getting the help they need so they can settle down in their host country as quickly as possible instead of worrying about being misunderstood.